GreenWorks’ Food Tree Projects Create Orchards and Empower Communities
Excitement was running high at Hillcrest Apartments. It was a sunny April day, and all the neighbors had come to see the earth movers: gardeners with shovels who were digging in the dirt with their hands, making room for fruit trees. Before long, members of the community rolled up their sleeves and jumped in to help.
By the end of the day, 80 volunteers and residents of the Hillcrest neighborhood had planted 36 blueberry bushes and 25 apple trees. These trees will provide shade and apples in the summer, scenery in the fall, and pride year round.
The orchard planting was part of a partnership between environmental nonprofit Asheville GreenWorks, the Asheville Housing Authority, Asheville Parks and Recreation, Green Opportunities, and the residents of Hillcrest Apartments, one of many such Food Tree Projects that Asheville GreenWorks plans for housing developments and neighborhoods around the city.
“What makes the Asheville GreenWorks Food Tree Project unique is the community buy-in,” says Dawn Chávez, executive director. “Residents of the housing developments are involved in every step of the process—from design through harvest.”
The Hillcrest and Deaverview neighborhoods were surveyed to determine what types of trees they wanted to plant—shade trees or fruit trees. At the community-wide celebration Fall Fest in Hillcrest last October, trees in the orchard were dedicated to individuals in the community who had been nominated by residents as Hillcrest Heroes.
“Community orchards provide many benefits to the community, including beauty, shade, fresh fruit, and relationship strengthening,” says Dawn. “In just a year we have seen children playing outdoors, and older folks sitting outside near the trees.”
When the trees fruit next year, the residents will decide how they want to harvest the apples—picking and eating them, or collecting them to sell at tailgate markets, putting the money back into community beautification projects.
Resident Tree Keepers, such as Ricky Miller pictured here, take care of the orchard year round, watering the trees and making sure they survive the critical first year after planting. After receiving training on the care and maintenance of fruit trees, Tree Keepers work up to ten hours a week during the growing season, receiving a modest wage.
“We know there is an epidemic of childhood obesity, lack of physical activity, and misinformation about nutritious food,” says Dawn. “As Asheville grows, green space decreases and food prices increase. Something as simple as an orchard can address many of these problems.”
Asheville GreenWorks plans the next Food Tree Project for the Southside neighborhood of the Erskine Street Apartments. Helping to support this and other future projects, the annual GreenWorks Garden Tour will be held Saturday, June 25, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Starting at the Kenilworth Presbyterian Church, 123 Kenilworth Road in Asheville, the event will be held rain or shine. Tickets ($20 in advance) are available online.
Asheville GreenWorks is an urban environmental organization working to enhance the environment and quality of life of all residents in Asheville and Buncombe County through educational programs and volunteer-led projects. Learn more at ashevillegreenworks.org.